Students’ activity in a course is connected to the learning environment they meet and the expectations they have of the learning experience. Expectations are driven by previous experience of education and help to shape the students’ subsequent actions – how they react to the course. Motivation is therefore not based on what the students bring with them to the course but is created in their meeting with the course environment.
Students look for expectations in the communication around the course and in previous experience. Rich communication can therefore compensate for insufficient structure and motivation. Here it is important that the course leader or team has clear and considered definitions of what is meant by terms like independent, making it clear that this does not mean that the student does not need to take part in the supervision and instruction activities.
Getting students to learn for life rather than for the exam is a challenge. The field of social presence embraces research and experience in helping students to raise their levels of presence and activity in courses by daring to engage, push their boundaries and be willing to take part in a learning journey.
Try to picture what sort of information your students get before the start of your course: Are there gaps that prevent students from getting a clear overview of what is expected of them? How is the subject and the scope of the course presented and justified?
The following is a list of activities that can be combined to give students a better understanding of what is expected of them:
- Detailed welcome letter and study guide before the course start.
- Study guide that describes the course week by week and contains assessment principles for all examinations, sent before the course start.
- A round-table discussion (e.g. a recorded video or live) a few days before the course start (who will be teaching, how we will contribute to the course, what support the student can expect etc.).
- Let students formulate their expectations for the course using, for example, a forum on the learning management system.
- Specify introductory reading in the welcome letter and urge students to comment on this in the learning management system.
- Monday updates via recorded video (take the students on a journey – what we have done and what happens next).
- Quiz at the beginning and end (check understanding/pre-knowledge). Can be combined with video reflection on own learning before and after the course.
The welcome letter that is sent to the students is often their first contact with their course. Try to meet the students’ interest and information needs wisely, with a message from the course management with information about what is going to happen and what is expected of the student during the first weeks. In this way, the student can feel that they have control even if there is a problem finding information or if the study guide is delayed. Clarify the difference between being accepted and actively registering for a course. In this way, many potential questions and problems are avoided. Attach the Student Handbook as an appendix to the mailing (see below).
Linnaeus University has published a student handbook where both you as a teacher and your students can read more about what is expected during the study period. Upload or link to it in MyMoodle/learning platform and feel free to talk about what it says in order to align expectations.
You can find the book on the page about Student rights and obligations on Lnu.se.
Make short recordings from your workplace that, for example, go through the study guide to put some focus on it (you can also do a quiz) or a review of the course literature to put it into context in the course or why not talk a little about the assessment criteria’s connection to the course objectives.
In the following example, a program (here the preschool teacher program) begins by explaining, even before registration, what is required of you as a student (in Swedish).
Världens bästa förskollärare
Here is an example of a recorded roundtable discussion in order to introduce the students in a course that is completely online and only uses scientific articles as course literature but nevertheless does not require any prior knowledge in the subject. The recording was important to give a picture of the researchers and how their research is used in the course and their thinking about the structure. Here, a golden opportunity is given for the students to get a little closer to the researchers and in the course evaluation a flexible culture in the course was also noticed (in Swedish).
Klimatförändringar 1 – rundabordssamtal
Here is another example of a degree program that has for a long time succeeded in integrating short recorded reflection meetings. Here Mats Loock and Johan Leitet discuss how they use vlogs (video blogs) in their web programming program (in Swedish).
Mats Loock och Johan Leitet berättar om sitt upplägg med vloggar i datavetenskapliga kurser.
A guide or study guide aims to show the structure of the course and also what is expected from the students. They should be able to review their efforts and see on what grounds they will be assessed. This does not necessarily have to be in the form of a product (e.g. pdf file) but can be a structure or study map in a course room. The study guide is usually made available to the students at the start of the course along with the required information about local regulations.
- Try to have as few guidance documents as possible by including descriptions of the examinations and their assessment criteria in the main guide.
- A study guide must not be too flashy but should show a clear overview.
- It should also contain a section where the examination activities are described in more detail or one that, for example, describes the course week by week. It can take the form of a checklist – all depending on the particular educational context it aims to support.
- A study guide should be the student’s best friend, offering a general orientation and presenting frameworks, but also leaving room for own initiatives. Study guides are sometimes difficult to understand when they confuse task instructions with examination descriptions and assessment criteria. If formalities are really to be the basis for assessment, this must be clear from the assessment criteria and that is not the same as instructions.
- If the assessment criteria are well described, you can simplify the instructions for the students.
Examples of different ways of presenting your study guide:
”A well-structured study guide with clear assessment criteria saves a lot of time during correction or when feedback is given”
Assessment criteria are a very important factor for legal certainty. They tell students on what grounds they are assessed and that irrelevant factors in assessment can be avoided. In addition to contributing to legal certainty, assessment criteria create a basis for communication with students who wonder what is to be examined and in the same way form the basis for justifying the assessment they receive. This increases student independence in that they know what is expected of them. Assessment criteria are presented to students at the start of the course (didactically advisable but also required by our local regulations). Grading criteria, i.e. what is required in each module to get a summary grade, must be included in the syllabus.
- criteria – a description of characteristics or basis of a demonstration / representation that result in a certain standard (outstanding, with quality, insightful, very good, detailed, etc.)
- grading criteria – characteristics for performance on an entire course, possible weighting of modules and graded elements
- assessment criteria / basis for assessment – prepared for assessment by examination, course elements (communicated at start of course)
- assessment area – a special aspect that is valued (referencing skills, lab knowledge, collaboration, method knowledge, etc.)
To consider when formulating criteria:
- Subject-specific and analytical criteria are preferable to general and holistic ones.
- Should show discrete differences (specify limited understanding).
- Avoid the adjective trap (continuous criteria), e.g. more detailed, better, with greater depth, etc.
- Avoid quantitative criteria (percentages)
and do not forget the criteria for U (Fail)
The work is rejected if it lacks argumentation and / or substantiated (scientifically, theoretically or collectively proven) conclusions.
The assessment criteria:
- are a requirement in local regulations (Lnu)
- direct and influence expectations
- stimulate motivation and autonomy in students
- can provide security and peace of mind
- help to reduce the risk of arbitrary assessment
- facilitate collaboration in teaching teams or collegially
- provide support when handing over
- provide a basis and a language for feedback and constitute a consistent basis for communication with students both before and after the examination.
Here you can read more about how to formulate assessment criteria (in Swedish):
Students’ preconceptions and possible misconceptions are important to map in order to both address during the course and to raise the students’ awareness. This can be done in the form of:
- List of statements (at the beginning and end of the course or along the way, eg one per week).
- Quiz at the beginning and end of the course. With a reflection at the end, the relationship between initial perceptions and development during the course can be made visible and sometimes even constitute an examination.
- Use different types of electronic bulletin boards where perceptions can be documented.
Example of task about preconceptions:
This text is based on and presents the consequences of Chapter 7 in Teaching as a Design Science, Laurillard, the latest edition insofar as nothing else is stated.
The lecture fulfills its function but often not in the way and to the extent that it is used. The lecture often needs to be reviewed with regard to three functions:
- How it contributes with an overview and structure of a topic, an important function for which the lecture form is to be used
- How it engages students so that cognitive processing processes are initiated in the student group.
- Its length.
The lecture uses basic aspects of teaching such as giving students ”shoulders to stand on” – ie be able to build on the work of others (learning through dedication). But listening, reading and watching do not utilize the same cognitive processes as doing things yourself. This is a form of teaching and course design that is popular with students but does not individually contribute to study results (Deslauriers, McCartya. Miller, Callaghan, & Kestin, 2019). Lectures, podcasts, watching recordings and reading texts or other resources instead only lead to limited cognitive processes such as keeping up with and following the lecturer rather than tackling one’s own ideas and questions that are raised.
The strength of the lecture is the opportunity to place students in the larger contexts of our areas of knowledge.
How can we further develop presentations / lectures?
To support students’ understanding and meaning-making, we as teachers need to:
- clarify the concept’s internal structure and relationships as well as relationships to larger processes
- clarify the structure of the lecture / text.
Keep in mind that the academic language creates unnecessary difficulties for students in perceiving meaning, key elements and concepts (stands in the way of the lecture’s overall purpose).
To contribute with an overview and structure – point 1
Representations such as mind maps, pictures and graphics work well to build your lecture around and make it less linear. Then it often becomes easier to interact with the students and adjust the presentation by omitting things that are not required or by changing the logic. A linear presentation such as a Powerpoint locks the student to a linear logic (the teacher’s) and may exclude many if you are not prepared to deviate from your order in case of ambiguities or questions.
Build on already established concepts and phenomena that students have in order to anchor new, more complex concepts. Be clear about where the difference lies, what the more complex picture now captures instead. Through a variation in examples, the students themselves can draw the line between what belongs together and what stands out. Here, students themselves can predict solutions or the next step as active elements that, when used frequently in the form of lectures, can contribute to success in examinations.
To give the lecture internal structure – point 2
The time we as teachers spend on the main purpose of a lecture / video (return to, refer to, compare with) is of great importance for how well students can summarize and reproduce a lecture. Simply spending some time initially on the main message and then dividing the time on underlying structures / theories halves the students’ opportunities to successfully summarize and reproduce the content of the lecture / video.
The concept of success is to reconnect to the overall context and in-depth depressions (a little about A then a little about B and C to pick up A again and so on…). So avoid a hierarchical structure with a short overall introduction that then disappears into the structure. This leads to the risk that students lose track of where they are in a topic, complexity or structure.
Remember that you can control how long your students follow your recorded lectures.
Tip: Try to start from a visual figure / representation instead of Powerpoint images or equivalent. Maybe you discover that there were parts that were not needed in the sentence construction or parts that were missing or that better supported each other in a different order. Then you may also be able to identify where the student interaction is most intensive and build activity around these parts of your lecture. You can also let the students do a quiz once after your lecture to identify which parts they are particularly struggling with and reinforce these with interactivity and then support for more advanced thought processes.
Interactive recorded lectures
Linnaeus University’s media portal (LnuPlay) has a built-in function for adding simpler questions to a recording. The student must answer the question to proceed in the film. Alternatively, you can create interactive breaks even in a recording by asking a question and asking the student to pause the recording and write their answers on paper before continuing with the lecture. End the lecture by inviting discussion in, for example, a forum in the learning platform or a Padlet page. This discussion can in turn create a basis for a synchronous meeting / seminar.
Recorded lectures should be short, about 10 minutes or shorter, and focus on one thing at a time with reference to the whole, the overall structure. Better with three short lectures with control questions and / or questions to reflect on than a long recording.
Deslauriers, L., McCartya, L. S., Miller, K., Callaghan, K., & Kestin, G. (2019). Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. PNAS, 116(39), 19251-19257. doi:https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1821936116
Entwistle, N., & Peterson, E. (2004). Conceptions of learning and knowledge in higher education: Relationships with study behaviour and influences of learning environments. International Journal of Educational Research, 41, 407-428. doi:10.1016/j.ijer.2005.08.009
Reneland-Forsman, L. (2017). Student learning cultures as responses to a learning environment. Utbildning & Lärande, 11(1), 48-63.
Reneland-Forsman, L. (2012). Toward a broader understanding of social talk in Web-based courses. Text & Talk, 32(3), 349-369. doi:10.1515/text-2012-0017